5 Ways the Badge of Busy Is Hurting Your Business

5 Ways the Badge of Busy Is Hurting Your Business

Felicia Sullivan

Chances are, you’re probably too busy to read this article. Perhaps you’re riding a five-cup coffee bender, because who doesn’t chug caffeine in order to survive the workday? Or you may have cancelled plans with friends or loved ones because the line to get into your office is longer than the DMV. “Inbox zero” was a fond memory in 2013, and did we mention that you’re just so busy?

There was a time when a person’s wealth was measured by his or her spare time. Money gave a business owner the freedom to take vacations and spend leisurely weekends with family and friends instead of plugging away at the office or shop. Being rich meant working less. Not anymore: Busy has become a status symbol. Now, if you’re a workaholic, you’re considered desirable, because people equate ambition and competence with being busy.

The Cult of Busy

In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, workers who brag about being overworked are signaling how much they and their skills are valued and in demand. Now, instead of showing off your new car or watch, you’re flashing your overflowing inbox and packed calendar.

This phenomenon of busy has shifted the definition of success. Have you looked at other small business owners who are busier than you and wondered why you’re not riding the same train? Suddenly you start thinking that you’re not ambitious enough or perhaps there’s something wrong with your business. Soon, you start trading your productivity and well-being for sleepless nights. You’ve become the Energizer Bunny of small businesses, yet you’re no further along from where you started.

Why? The cult of overwork is a façade. Being busy creates the myth of constant progress, but motion isn’t progress. Succeeding in your business is more important than satisfying other people’s perception of success.

It is reported that 46% of workers suffer work-related stress to levels of near-burnout, which can cost U.S. businesses upwards of $150 billion in annual revenue due to “lost productivity, absenteeism, poor decision-making, stress-related mental illness, and substance abuse.” We end up wasting valuable time doing things that are not important because being busy makes us feel more productive, according to research from the University of Chicago.

The bottom line: Our brains are not wired to multi-task — by stuffing more work into our day, we’re actually training our brains to be more unproductive.

5 Dangers of Being Busy

Here are five ways that being busy can cripple your business.

Busy shortchanges your customers.

When you’re busy, you tend to forget all the superior service details that set you apart from your competitors — the small touches that make for a memorable customer experience. As a result, your customers aren’t getting the attention they deserve and critical parts of your job risk falling through the cracks.

Busy hurts your health.

Your business is reliant on your health and well-being, and, even if you have a team in place and can delegate tasks, you need to be on top of your vision and long-term growth strategy. Studies show that we’re not using all our vacation days and are working longer hours. The long hours, sleepless nights, and stress all can wreak havoc on your health.

Busy crushes team morale.

From not having the time to coach and mentor your employees to scheduling too many useless meetings and check-ins, your busy behavior is a morale crusher. We know that when you’re busy, your stress level goes into overdrive. Then guess who gets the brunt of it? Your team! Your team absorbs your frenzy and that negatively affects the quality and productivity of their work, creating a domino effect of mistakes that could cost your small business big.

Busy leads to burnout.

In order to grow your business, you need to be working on your business rather than in it. So, if you’re too deep in the day-to-day and creating more work for yourself to appear busy, you lose sight of the big picture. And burnout can spiral your business out of control and halt growth in its tracks. Don’t stay stuck in the now — take a step back and focus on the road ahead.

Being busy cripples creativity.

Have you ever noticed that you get your big business ideas when you’re in the shower or taking a walk or spending time with your kids? There’s a scientific reason behind this. Neurologists studying brain scans discovered that our biggest aha! moments occur when our brain is at rest. Creativity takes a back seat when you’re constantly busy; rest moves it into the driver’s seat.

3 Ways to Break Free

Now that you know how overwork can crush your small business, here are three ways to break free of the rat race.

Hit the pause button.

Slow down, take a breather, rest, and reset. Take stock of your priorities and what really matters. Start to frame time not in terms of activity, but by priority.

Try switching out the phrase, “I don’t have time to go to the doctor” with, “Going to the doctor isn’t my priority.” Evaluate if changing your language puts you on pause. Then you’ll start to notice how “not having time” has been your go-to for everything. Only then will you be able to separate the things that are unproductive and useless from that which matters.

Shout “no” from the rooftops.

Only take on projects and tasks that make you shout “yes.” If it doesn’t move you, it likely won’t move your business. Being selective about what you take on creates space to focus on what will move both you and your business forward.

Track and guard your time.

You can use free tools like Timely or Harvest to track how you’re spending your day. We often don’t realize how much time we’re wasting until we look at the data. Track your time for two weeks and review the results. Determine what actions have moved your business forward and discard that which doesn’t.

Schedule time in your calendar for yourself. This may sound a bit woo woo, but it’s important to reserve chunks of your day for yourself because it creates the same level of importance in your calendar as a meeting does. Whether it’s half an hour a day or an hour a week, set time aside to focus on the big picture.

What are your thoughts? Have you been caught up in the busyness race? How has it impacted your small business? Share your story in the comments section below.

45 Responses to "5 Ways the Badge of Busy Is Hurting Your Business"
    • Kate | July 28, 2022 at 11:55 am

      Thanks for this article! We’re a very small family-owned & operated consulting business, and I’ve recently recognized that we’re nearly at the burn-out point. We enjoy what we’re doing & know that our services are helpful, but we’re not taking time for ourselves. I’m going to reserve time in our schedule for vacations, even if it’s just a long weekend. Making mistakes because we’re burned out could jeopardize our 27-year old business!

      • Small Biz Ahead | July 28, 2022 at 3:09 pm

        Thank you for sharing your personal experiences, Kate! Making time for vacations and rest is so important.

    • Sally Valencia | July 15, 2022 at 12:37 pm

      Loved reading this…it’s called living a well balanced life 🙂 Something I have learned…Being still, not being quick to say yes to take that offer in $, Praying about everything and inquiring of Gods voice in the matter, after all it’s He who knows our future as well as our past what we can handle or not.

    • Lana | July 13, 2022 at 1:47 pm

      Thanks for sharing, it helps a lot.

      • Small Biz Ahead | July 14, 2022 at 8:42 am

        You’re welcome, Lana!

    • Rosina Silveira | July 13, 2022 at 7:37 am

      Need mentor

    • Nina | August 20, 2020 at 11:31 am

      Thanks for sharing/re-sharing this article. It is a great reminder for small business owners to work on the work-life balance. I have been realizing lately that even though I am not overly busy right now (COVID-19 has impacted my business), I am also not taking enough time off. Sitting at my desk and not being productive is not healthy! So I plan to pack the work I have into fewer days and take a couple Fridays off to create long weekends for the rest of the summer.

    • Robert W Bly | August 20, 2020 at 7:45 am

      For me, I have found that being busy makes me more productive, enthusiastic, and energized. Busy works!

    • Mike | August 19, 2020 at 11:03 pm

      One thing that I learned as a naval officer is that constant, continuous education and training to strive for a level of extreme competence is the best way to enjoy satisfaction with one’s job and be able to live a balanced life. Being able to confidently bear down on a challenge without worrying whether you have what it takes to do it well and knowing that you can go home and happily separate yourself from work is a pleasure beyond description.

      The book “One Giant Leap” includes a chapter about Bill Tindall, a NASA engineer who exemplified that premise. His superior technical training and experience gave him the confidence to accomplish enormous challenges that brought success to the Apollo Program after it suffered the tragic death of three astronauts in January, 1967.

    • Thomas Fleming | August 19, 2020 at 3:14 pm

      For most small business owners… They rely on referrals to grow and expand their business. When they are constantly telling their customers and referral sources how busy they are they are literally turning off their referral faucet.

      • Stefanee | July 20, 2022 at 11:05 am

        So true! I used to always reply with “just so busy, not enough time in the day.” But I eventually realized I was communicating “I’m struggling to stay on top of my business,” or “I don’t know how to manage my time effectively.” Thank you for mentioning the effect it has on referrals, hadn’t thought of that!!

    • Myron | May 24, 2019 at 8:30 am

      Very nice article. Someone from the Greatest Generation once told me to “work smarter not harder”. I think there is something useful here for everyone regardless of your age. These truths are universal.

      Thank you for sharing this.

    • Barbara | May 18, 2019 at 9:57 pm

      Straw man, Wayne. Being passionate about something doesn’t mean being constantly busy. Easy example: an athlete. An athlete has to be as disciplined about rest as s/he is about practice. Otherwise, performance suffers. That is true of most things,

    • Bob Green | May 18, 2019 at 10:48 am

      What I have found is that developing good processes will slow down the busy train and the associated stress. Always look for better ways to get those pesky must do tasks completed and there will be more time to perform the important business functions such as lunch or other functions with clients or vendors.

    • Jen Grafe | May 16, 2019 at 6:16 pm

      I wouldn’t have thanked Wayne for reading either. He is one of those people that isn’t happy unless he is shooting down somebody else or someone else’s theory. His comment was so insulting.

      I found this to be a worthwhile read. I was glad to know that I was already instinctively doing what Hannah advised. Woot! I mean, as a dog walker, Woof!

    • John | May 15, 2019 at 8:33 pm

      Jerry & Wayne, great points and this article also great timing – Thank You!

    • Jeffrey | May 15, 2019 at 3:38 pm

      Yes, this is very true. I’ve been working on this already, but I’m really going to focus on this now. Thanks for the article!

      • Hannah Sullivan | May 17, 2019 at 11:07 am

        Thank you for reading, Jeffrey!

    • Dr. Madelyn Curll | May 15, 2019 at 2:27 pm

      Oddly, I agree with everyone. I am a professional and a small business owner. I became passionate about my profession when I was 19. At 63, I am still working hard and believe in what I do. Why retire when volunteer work could not be nearly as interesting. However, I am often overwhelmed and my health suffers. Now I have hired someone that hopefully can train to be my office manager and free me up from the parts of my “job” that I do not enjoy.

      • Nancy L Stuart | February 17, 2021 at 6:10 am

        I can totally agree with this article. Been running a very small family business for many years. Ran other peoples businesses for years. Have experienced major burn out as a working Mom trying to do it all. Up all night many times trying to be all things to all people. My family, employees and bosses. This is what I have learned. Think about what is really important to you. What do you value more than anything else? If its only about money you probably will never be satisfied in life, If you really care about people you will be successful. Your clients will sense it when they deal with you. Your employees will want to do a good job too. Is money important? Of course. But don’t make it priority.
        If you have your priorities in order, do your best and your employees do the same your business will grow and your clients will spread the word. But more importantly you will experience the joys of your family, friends and all life has to offer. Now we are training our grandson to take over the business my husband and I started in 1985. I still love to work and speak with clients that have been with us from the beginning. That is my joy at the m.oment. Now their kids call for service for their businesses and homes.

        • Small Biz Ahead | February 18, 2021 at 8:47 am

          Thank you for sharing, Nancy!

        • Stefanee | July 20, 2022 at 11:29 am

          Nancy, couldn’t have said it better, thank you!

    • John | May 15, 2019 at 9:28 am

      Be smart and be good. Make some good-hearted friends. Get help from a smart friend and/or life coach.

    • Jerry | May 15, 2019 at 8:40 am

      The article hits good points – everyone should consider them.

      Set your own agenda – don’t let others, stay in control of your day.
      Prioritize. understanding, things happen during the day you have to allow for…..
      Start out each day by planning your day – strive to avoid just going thru the day reacting to what is going on .
      Ie, at the end of the day , you want to be able to look at what you accomplished, not at what you survived.

      • Elizabeth Larkin | May 15, 2019 at 9:10 am

        Thanks for your input Jerry. -Elizabeth

    • Breezy Paul | May 15, 2019 at 7:53 am

      What’s old is new again!
      Here are two old biz sayings that will guide your biz life.
      “Never confuse activity with productivity!”, and “The Serenity Prayer Applies.” Google the latter.

      • Hannah Sullivan | May 15, 2019 at 8:33 am

        Great advice Breezy- thanks for sharing.

      • Stefanee | July 20, 2022 at 11:35 am

        Thank you, Breezy. Am literally writing the quote “Never confuse activity with productivity!” on the whiteboard above my desk as a reminder. I struggle with keeping that in focus and constantly keeping all the plates spinning. This will help ground me and bring me back to a proper perspective.

    • johnny | May 15, 2019 at 7:42 am

      ill have to agree with the above statement but I do wish I had some how work for a vacation in my working busy life when I was young I believe it would have helped and besides if you go to the right place it tax money well spent

      • Hannah Sullivan | May 15, 2019 at 8:34 am

        Johnny, this is great advice for business owners who are young and just starting out. Thank you for reading!

    • JP Saleeby, MD | May 15, 2019 at 7:41 am

      TWO THUMBS UP!!!!

      • Hannah Sullivan | May 15, 2019 at 8:34 am

        We appreciate your feedback, JP.

    • Rachel | May 15, 2019 at 7:41 am

      Love it! I agree. I have been shifting the idea of being busy for being productive, and being happy! Which means I get to choose, prioritize, projects or events which results in saying “no” more often. And people get offended sometimes, they’re not used to, specially from a “busy” person, ironically. But the important thing is to know you are doing your best and enjoying every minute of it, otherwise what’s the point of working so hard?

      • Hannah Sullivan | May 15, 2019 at 8:35 am

        This is a great outlook Rachel. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lee | May 15, 2019 at 2:32 am

      I agree with previous reviewer and I’m a woman. This article sounds like it was written by a millennial. The one point that stands out that I agree with is that the team can absorb bosses stress which can lead to mistakes if the staff member is already not a strong performer. So finding ways to productively channel stress at work is good. Which sometimes means plunging in to do some of the hands on work to help team get over being snowed. Being one of the team, and being able to fill in on any task, rather than over the team is important in critical busy periods. And it keeps staff morale up to seeing boss work hard alongside team.

    • Eric | May 15, 2019 at 1:34 am

      Your article did make me stop and reflect on my schedule. It did make me realize I have to shift priorities.

      • Hannah Sullivan | May 15, 2019 at 8:32 am

        Thanks for your feedback, Eric. We are glad we can help!

    • Brian McCloud | May 15, 2019 at 12:13 am

      If this didn’t come at a perfect time… thank you

    • Michael R Abens | May 14, 2019 at 10:16 pm

      Excellent perspective shared in this piece.

      • Hannah Sullivan | May 15, 2019 at 8:31 am

        Thanks for reading Michael!

    • Enrique Elías Valdés | May 14, 2019 at 7:54 pm

      completely agree. don’t get sucked in the busy trend
      make time to step out and visit your customers | show your appreciation | & most importantly make time to harvest your inner self meditating & talking / face-timing your dear ones … time flies … let’s not waste it doing business errands that may be delegated and do spend it with our most loved beings who’ll surely appreciate and grow our business by referring us

    • WAYNE KILTZ | May 14, 2019 at 6:46 pm

      Actually, I would guess that this is probably different for different people. Whoever wrote this article is probably not super-passionate about a business or calling.
      Here are two recent science discoveries
      Stress doesn’t kill you, but thinking that stress is killing you will kill you.
      People who live for meaning live much longer than people who live for personal happiness.
      Working hard does not need to mean trying to impress someone with how hard you work. I’m also not sure how it means that you are paying less attention to your customers. If there is purpose in our work, Living to please the people whose meaning in life only happens outside of work, is less fulfilling to me than living with passion and purpose. Maybe I don’t have work-life balance, but why can’t work be a part of life?

    • vanessa | May 14, 2019 at 6:38 pm


      • Hannah Sullivan | May 14, 2019 at 7:52 pm

        Thanks for reading, Vanessa!

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